National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi this week summoned two reporters from the People Daily to appear before the House over a story the paper had published.
The government has launched one of what could easily turn out to be the most decisive fight against corruption in Kenya’s history. For years, the leaders of government have spoken against corruption but without a sustained appearance of commitment to the statement.
But earlier in the year it appeared that the President decided to walk his talk. This is not like the previous attempt when several Cabinet secretaries were asked to step aside and after that it appeared that nothing was happening—that it was a game of revolving chairs. Those CCs quietly went on with their lives unpertubed.
New sheriffs came to town in the name of Director of Public Prosecutions and Director of Criminal Investigations and heads started to roll. What seemed like usual rhetoric started to take a serious stance when heads of organisations started getting locked in and spending time at the Industrial Area and Lang’ata Women’s prisons. While convictions are yet to be secured, it is no longer business as usual.
In fact, while the President declared that his second term legacy was going to be built around the Big Four agenda— affordable housing, universal health care, food security and manufacturing—the reality is that the fight against corruption, if successful, will be his real legacy. And what a legacy it would be!
Recently, the President summoned accounting officers in State corporations and read them the riot act on accountability and prudent management of resources. It may have been in this spirit that Speaker Muturi returned to the august House with his own riot act to his people, and People Daily reporters picked up a version that the House is now objecting to.
But what a boon this will be to the People Daily. It is not for nothing that the media is considered a watchdog. Somewhere in the mind of the public there is a perception that the people tasked with managing the affairs of the State are generally up to no good and at the slightest opportunity will play mischief with national resources. Therefore, they always need to have a watch kept at them lest they dip their hands in the cookie jar.
The media comes in handy as an independent watchdog. When a public official calls out the media for having caught them out, it serves as free publicity. A sheep does not go shaking its body in public for nothing, and if it does so, know it has been rained on. So when the Speaker calls out the People Daily reporters that alone could signal to the public that the House had been caught with pants down and now wants to dress down the press as a cover up and to instil fear so that the journalists could look the other way.
It is free publicity and promotion that any media house would covet. Consider the case of American media that Donald Trump has been attacking ceaselessly. Since he launched attacks on CNN, New York Times and Washington Post, among others, the circulation and subscription to those media houses have gone up.
On the other hand, praise from public officials does no good to the level of trust and circulation of a media house. That is why media houses owned by the State don’t usually do well in circulation.
Public officials should have long ago learnt that it is probably better, in dealing with the media, not to draw attention, and make to simply leave journalists alone. For People Daily, the incident a promotion to be milked for what it is to offer.
Writer is the Dean, School of Communication at Daystar University.